new to snow shoes-help

Posted by: hobbyhiker

new to snow shoes-help - 09/18/09 07:10 PM

looking forward to some snow this year. gonna try and enjoy it a bit more with some snow shoes.

don't know where to start

does anyone have any suggestions for a starter.

I don't want to break the bank.

I am very excited to hear some responses.

I hike alot. Mostly dayhikes. About 200 pounds. I understand there are weight limits. With my typical pack in winter, i guess i would be 225 or so, with all the gear on that is necessary for winter hiking.

I've done winter hiking before, lots of it, just when the snow gets too deep, I've turned back, I don't want to turn around anymore. I figured snow shoes would work, and the learning curve would be shorter than xx skiing.

Posted by: Paul

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/18/09 09:36 PM

The idea that snowshoes have less of a learning curve is sort of true, but it depends greatly on the person and even more so on the terrain. If you have good balance and are moderately athletic generally, AND you're on easy terrain (gentle or no slopes, not densely forested or brushy) then I'd bet you can cover more ground your first day on skis than you can your first day on snowshoes. you won't be a very good skier the first day, but the inherently greater efficency of skiing makes up for that. On the other had, if the terrain is up and down or densely forested, it's a totally different story, and you'll find snowshoes much easier to get started on. I have no idea whether you have easy access to any ski instruction, but it would help a lot if you are interested. I'm not trying to push skiing as inherently superior to snowshoeing, it's just that for a lot of siutations you can cover more ground more easily on skis.
If you think snowshoes are the way to go, you may want to rent some and try them out before buying. I have some MSR snowshoes, which I haven't used in years because I'm on skis instead, but when I did use them I thought they were great. The current similar model is this:
I like them because they are simple and have lots of traction - due to the fact that the frame has traction as well as the cleats underfoot. Have fun! Oh, and you'll need poles, whether snowshoeing or skiing.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/18/09 10:03 PM

Having ripped nearly all the tendons in one knee while X-C skiing 20 years ago, I hesitate to recommend it. If you do go in for skiing instead of snowshoeing, make sure your bindings have a release feature if you fall (I had the 3-pin type, so it was my knee that "gave" instead of the binding).

Snowshoeing is easier, IMHO. However, a pair of ski poles (or trekking poles with snow baskets) really help. Where snowshoeing becomes frustrating is on the downhill, particularly if there are X-C skiers in your party! At least in soft snow, you need to make a path separate from the ski tracks, unless you enjoy being sworn at by the skiers. Snowshoeing is harder work than skiing except on steep uphill slopes.

I also suggest renting (either skis or snowshoes) before you invest. I finally gave up doing the winter thing (in western Oregon, we can hike snow-free most of the year, although of course it's pretty soggy), so I never did buy snowshoes. My skis are still sitting in the garage, unused since the accident 20 years ago.
Posted by: Echterling

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/18/09 10:29 PM

Well, the basic idea for snowshoeing is the same as walking, so for the most part you'll have it figured out really quickly.

Make sure you don't bridge things with the snowshoes (e.g. step directly on a log with your foot, don't try to set the tip or tail on the log).

Stay away from trees (tree wells can suffocate you just like an avalanche).

What kind of terrain will you be in? Mountains = highly technical snowshoes like the offerings from MSR, Atlas, Tubbs, etc. Flat land with super deep powder may benefit from "traditional" snowshoes, huge wooden shoes with lots of floatation.

See if you can find places to rent, or maybe see if you can find groups that have classes of some sort. That is a good way to try before you buy.
Posted by: TomD

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/19/09 03:17 AM

The advice so far is pretty good when taken as a whole. However, I will consolidate it a bit-
Snowshoes-if you can walk, you can snowshoe, it's that simple. For your weight, get the biggest shoes you can find. The old school wooden shoes are great for Northern Canada where the ground is flat and the snow deep and fluffy. Otherwise, just get a big pair of Atlas or similar shoes. I'd stay away from MSR's-they are probably too small for you without the tails and may be awkward with them. Get poles, as already mentioned. Cheap ski poles will work fine. I use my trekking poles with snow baskets on them.

Rent, then buy. You may find you don't like snowshoeing, who knows. Used snowshoes are fairly common on eBay or Craigslist. As long as they aren't beat up, there isn't a lot to go wrong with them.

Skis- higher learning curve, more expensive. You can snowshoe in almost any boot. My backcountry ski boots (Garmont Excursions) retail for about $350 just for the boots. Skis and bindings about the same. My gear is for backcountry skiing, but in fluffy stuff, they aren't wide enough.

XC skiing on skinny skis on packed trails is a whole other deal which others can comment on. That's not my setup.

Here is an online magazine for snowshoeing. I've linked to their beginner's section.

The link is also in the drop-down menu on the left that you will see once you are past the home page with the big picture on it.
Posted by: hobbyhiker

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/19/09 11:13 AM

Well, I'm in Kansas, and its flat. A little rolling, but mostly easy travel. I will be looking to do it close to home...I kind of feel a bit inspired to try the xx. More ground covered is what I am looking for. I'm active, like long day hikes, not sure about backpacking yet, you have to carry so much, which kills the miles covered. Anyways....

I think I'll try and rent both this winter, maybe hold off on buying. I guess I was a bit nervous about the amount of falling one does while learning to ski

Thanks for the advice, helpful

this forum has helped me a couple of times and I thank you all

Posted by: Echterling

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/19/09 12:21 PM

I have fallen about as much snowshoeing as I have xc skiing. They are both pretty simple. Try them both before you get ideas about what is better or worse or more dangerous.

Also, backpacking doesn't kill how many miles I can cover, and I bet a lot of the people on this site can say the same.

Posted by: TomD

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/20/09 02:58 AM

I disagree-having done both, skiing is more difficult than snowshoeing. I ski with moderately wide full metal edged Backcountry skis with releasable Voile 3 pin bindings and plastic boots, which are a lot different from the skinny XC skis with the system bindings and low boots.
Posted by: Echterling

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/20/09 11:42 AM


I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying XC > backcountry rigs like yours > snowshoeing in terms of difficulty???

I have to disagree with that. I took a class on XC skiing many years ago to learn (largely because people claimed it was so difficult) and most people had the kick and glide motion within a few minutes and the skate motion by the end of the 1 hr class. It really is just as easy as snowshoeing.

Either one is going to be a serious workout. . . it is tough work breaking trail, traveling with a pack, etc at any decent pace. But really, I don't think XC skiing is difficult at all.
Posted by: TomD

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/20/09 03:40 PM

I'm talking about backcountry skiing, not track skiing, which is a lot different. I would agree that track skiing isn't too hard to learn the basics. I took an afternoon class in Yosemite on track skis, but found them hard to turn and not suitable for what I wanted to do, which is backcountry winter camping. Off track travel requires either snowshoes or backcountry skis, which resemble downhill or telemark skis much more than the skinny track skis.

My skis are Atomic Rainiers which are a shaped, metal edge ski with an 80-60-70 profile; they look nothing like a track ski. Also, even though I have the fishscale, waxless bottoms, I use climbing skins as well, even on moderate slopes because I get so much more traction. Plus, I am not just walking or skiing- I am towing a sled, which is a whole different experience. Skiing even on a packed road with a sled behind you takes more attention than snowshoeing. The skins make towing the sled much easier. You can telemark on my skis in the right conditions, but my skiing skills aren't there yet to do that.

I still think snowshoeing is easier just because it's more like walking than any kind of skiing. As long as you don't trip over your own feet, not much to it.

I'm not trying to discourage anyone from trying either one, but for skiing, I'd say taking a lesson or two would be worth it. If you can get to a XC ski area where they have tracks cut, rent skis and give lessons, that would be ideal. XC skiing is like bowling-you need special shoes and those go with the skis when you rent them.

Posted by: Echterling

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/20/09 04:33 PM

The OP has said that they are a hiker, not a backpacker. I doubt they are going to be going deep into backcountry areas. I think XC skis are perfectly appropriate at this stage of the game. Someone that only wants to basically continue to hike in the winter is unlikely to tow a pulk.
Posted by: TomD

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/20/09 08:11 PM

I agree about towing the sled; I just mentioned it because that is how I travel part of the time. But, if you are going off trail, track skis won't cut it. They are just too narrow, don't have an edge and are too hard to turn. Off trail, I would use either snowshoes or wide skis, even wider than mine, if the snow is really fluffy. I learned that lesson last winter in Yosemite.

We could argue about this all winter, but my suggestion to the OP is just try whatever you can find and see what works where you are.

If anyone wants to learn more about backcountry skiing, here is a good place to start-

Posted by: Paul

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/21/09 12:08 AM

Defintely, try both and see how it goes. I think what the different opinions expressed here prove is that there is no hard and fast answer to which is easier, snowshoeing or skiing - it depends on where you go, what the conditions are, and your own physical abilitiesTrying is the only way to find out what works for you.
Posted by: kevonionia

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/22/09 01:08 AM


Thanks for that info. I recently moved to CO and want to get into snowshoeing this winter to extend the hiking season. In looking at old threads there seems to be universal agreement that MSR makes one of the best, affordable shoes (under $150 being affordable?)

How do those MSR Denali snowshoes compare to that "other" brand at Campmor, Redfeather? Is the $40 or $50 worth the difference?

Seems like most people were really ecstatic about the MSR Ascents -- worth it for them over their Denalis?
Posted by: TomD

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/22/09 01:40 AM

Kevon, MSR snowshoes are a much different design than other shoes. They are one size with an add-on tail for heavier users. The main difference among their models is the style of crampons on them and the heel lifters that make climbing in them easier. My ski bindings have a similar lifter for skinning uphill, which I haven't actually used yet, so no idea how effective they are.

The snow in CA is heavier than in CO, so you might think about a more traditional shoe-by that I don't necessarily mean big wooden shoes like they use in Canada, but a more traditional design like Tubbs or Atlas that has more flotation than an MSR. In Canada, the winter campers often use traditional wooden shoes without crampons on them because the snow is fluffy and they aren't really going up and down that much.

I used some Redfeathers in Yosemite last winter in deep fluff and they worked just fine. Not sure what size-I got the biggest ones I could rent and I'm only 135 or so, but I was towing out my sled and had a pack on as well.

If you go to Snowshoe Magazine (I posted the link above) you will find a list of manufacturers with a lot of different shoes to look at.

Faber makes traditional and hi-tech shoes. This chart on their website is a good guide to different shoes for different conditions.
Posted by: Paul

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/22/09 01:51 PM

Kevon - I think I would emphasize how the MSR shoes differ, rather than how they compare, since the two are rather different animals. The Redfeathers are like most modern snowshoes - aluminum tubing frame, fabric deck, binding with claws attached. The MSR's are a molded plastic deck with similar bindings and claw. The big difference is created by the shape of the MSR deck, which has ridges and points on the bottom such that it has traction in all directions. Where this makes a difference is if you are on a slope and the snow is crusty or firm. With most snowshoes (the Redfeathers included), the vast majority of the traction is provided by the claw attached to the binding. The MSR's, with all the various protrusions on the bottom of the frame/deck, have a lot mor traction, especially when it comes to traversing a slope or going downhill. And again, this only makes a difference if the snow is crusty or icy or firm. In soft snow traction is not a problem, and it's all about flotation, and there it's pretty much just a question of the size of the shoes - bigger means more flotation. So it comes down to the conditions under which you'll be using the shoes - deep and soft, or crusty/icy.
As to Denalis Vs Denali Ascents, and the other snowshoes further up the MSR line, the biggest difference is the heel lifter - what they call the "televator". I have heel lifters on my backcountry skis, and they make a big difference on steep climbs. So if you are into steep terrain, the heel lifters are a big help on long climbs - that's assuming the MSR lifters work well, which I can't comment on because my MSR shoes don't have them.

If you can rent both types it would be a good idea - see what works for you. If you find some folks who snowshoe in your area, their input would be helpful as well. Have fun! I hear it's snowing already in CO.
Posted by: phat

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/22/09 11:50 PM

Originally Posted By TomD
For your weight, get the biggest shoes you can find. The old school wooden shoes are great for Northern Canada where the ground is flat and the snow deep and fluffy. Otherwise, just get a big pair of Atlas or similar shoes. I'd stay away from MSR's-they are probably too small for you without the tails and may be awkward with them. Get poles, as already mentioned. Cheap ski poles will work fine. I use my trekking poles with snow baskets on them.

I'll disagree with tom here on the MSR's.. I have the MSR's with tails and they work very very nice for me (and I'm quite a bit bigger than you) on anything but fluffy powder.. Nothing works well on deep fluffy powder. Big traditional snowshoes do work better on fluffy deep stuff, when it's flat. if you are potentially in mountain country on a slope, they suck. (they become a very bad pair of skis smile

I don't find the tails really that onerous on the msr's at all. I can take them off on harder stuff but never do. I just leave them on all the time. If I could get foot long MSR tails I would buy them.
Posted by: TomD

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/24/09 10:03 PM

I yield to Phat on this one since he has them. My recommendation was based on second hand info from users I talked to and looking at them in comparison to the Atlas shoes I had. The knock on them I heard was that with tails they are unbalanced because you are so far forward on them, but if Phat says that isn't so, take his work for it. Maybe the people I talked to were just clumsy. smile

Again, like everything else, try them out before buying.

Posted by: phat

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/25/09 08:14 PM

Unbalanced might matter to showshoe purists doing "snowshoe marathons" - in reality on real stuff, the more they float the better, and on any kind of slope, the more they grip the better.

The MSR's with tails are a good compromise for both. If I could get a bigger snowshoe that still had aggressive crampon and side grips though I would.

Were I in flatland ontario in deep powder, I'd take traditional big ones, where I am in mountains or hills, MSR's.

Posted by: bmisf

Re: new to snow shoes-help - 09/26/09 04:20 PM

A lot is going to depend on terrain, too.

I am not skilled enough yet on skis to feel comfortable on steep downhills (and what looks steep to me is probably a minor bump to better skiers).

On snowshoes, however, I can go pretty much anywhere, in any terrain, with trees or not, and feel comfortable and make good progress. I can zip downhill in them, surfing on the tails, and a pretty decent clip too.

I don't recommend getting the biggest snowshoes that can carry your weight - I'd say there's even an argument for getting the smallest that can carry your weight. But, there are other factors too, like type of snow and whether you'll be on steep traverses.

My favorite snowshoes are probably the Northern Lites, with some Crescent Moon Magnesium 9s or MSR Evo Denalis tied for second place. The former are light and work in lots of different conditions, but they don't have as aggressive a set of crampons (= better traction in compacted snow and ice) as the latter two.

Main thing is to get out and try it; see what works for you. REI and other stores rent snowshoes, and that can be a good way to start out just as it is with skis.
Posted by: 300winmag

new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 09/27/09 03:46 AM

I have Atlas snowshoes and, normally, they are fine. But last year while taking an Avalanche I course I was using my Atlas 30" snowshoes on a very steep forested mountainside and slipped sidewise downhill about 50 feet before coming to a stop in some bushes. Luckily it wasn't a tree that stopped me.

Anyway, this year I'm buying a pair of 30 inch MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes. These suckers are THE Mac Daddy of snowshoe traction. They have teeth everywhere except on the tail section.

The innovative design of the flat vertical frame means no aluminum frame tubing to worry about breaking. Their lateral traction from this toothed frame is just unbeatable.

BTW, having been a Nordic ski patroller and racer for 10 years I can say that wider backcountry XC skis are great for touring IF you have gentle terrain or climbing skins for hilly areas. Their speed is much better than snowshoes but it takes the better part of a season and LESSONS (absolutely) to be skilled enough to use them easily in the woods and fields and on hills. The part about lessons cannot be stressed enough.
Posted by: hobbyhiker

Re: new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 09/28/09 02:10 PM

Back from a somewhat disapponting grand canyon trip(never made it out of vegas) happy to hear the advice for snow shoes vs. xx skiing.

I do have one question for 300winmag---are the MSR Lightnings the mac daddy....or are they the daddy mac?

anyone remember kriss kross...sorry, bad joke
Posted by: TomD

Re: new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 09/28/09 08:07 PM

I second Eric's take on BC skis. In my limited experience, BC skis without climbing skins are almost useless once you are off the flats, even if they are waxless. I've used skins for traction on an icy road while towing my sled. Snowshoes work a lot better for that, even if slower, if you don't have skins.

I'm not sure how steep you can climb with wide skis and skins, but tele skiers do it all the time. I'm talking really wide tele skis, not something as narrow as mine (80-60-70).
Posted by: Paul

Re: new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 09/29/09 07:21 PM

Tom - I know you tow a sled or pulk, and from a traction standpoint that is a tough task for a ski - you have more mass to move but don't have that weight on your back where it can add to your traction. My skis (atomic Rainiers) are same dimensions as yours. With a pack (30-40 lbs)on, I can climb about a 10 degree slope without skins, less if it's powdery (although if it's sticky powder, then I can climb pretty steep - but not ski down!). With the skins on, I can go straight up as steep as my nerves can handle. I've never tried any slope that I couldn't go straight up, but I don't think I've tried anything much over 30 degrees. That's steep enough for me - it feels pretty hairy going straight up something that steep. And I might add that's a measured 30 degrees. I carry an inclinometer when I'm backcountry skiing, to help me assess avalanche risk, and it's surprising how much steeper I thought things were than what I found when I measured them.
Posted by: thecook

Re: new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 09/30/09 12:31 AM

some people will carry a backpack as well as tow a sled (pulk) in order to keep weight on their back for climbing. An other option is to store your gear in a back pack and strap the pack to the sled upside down. Then when you hit a hill, you can put on the pack for the extra weight. Personally, if I am taking skis and using a sled, I also take snowshoes.
Posted by: TomD

Re: new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 09/30/09 01:46 AM

Paul, the reason your skis have the same dimension as mine is because (drum roll, please) they are the same ski. smile

Where I had the traction problem was on a hard pack road that was a bit icy in spots. I will have to try climbing with and without the skins. I have BD Glidelite skins-the ones that look like blue and white cowhide. I don't have tails on them-just use the glue, but I may put tails on them at some point.

I've got Voile 3 pin bindings sitting on their release plates. Never been downhilling to see if the releases actually work, but they do give me a bit of lift off the ski and I hope will actually work if need be.

Have you tried tele skiing with them? That's my next goal-nothing super steep, just bunny hill stuff.
Posted by: Paul

Re: new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 09/30/09 06:27 PM

Actually, I don't tele, I ski paralell - or wedge turns when I'm desperate. If I was a better skier I'd be able to tackle some pretty challenging terrain on these skis. As it is. I've done some nice tours in the sierra on them, and I'm planning a long trans-sierra trip for the coming spring.
Posted by: hobbyhiker

Re: new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 10/07/09 12:07 AM

So this past weekend I picked up a pair of Atlas snow shoes from a neighbors garage sale for $25. They look almost new, a couple small dents on the bottom of shoe, on the outside "rail".

No corrosion just a couple little dimples really.

Good score for learning or did I waste my $$. They are red, can't find a model name anywhere
Posted by: phat

Re: new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 10/07/09 02:03 AM

If you got atlas brand snowshoes for 25 bucks, and they fit, you practially stole them - enjoy them.
Posted by: TomD

Re: new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 10/08/09 02:34 AM

$25 is a total score. New, the cheapest Atlas shoes retail for around $130. So you got yours for at least 80% off retail. You may have done way better than that, depending on the model.

The newer shoes have a fancier strap system that is more like a slip-in shoe, while the older ones like I had, just have straps, which works just as well, but takes a bit more fiddling to tighten up. Maybe an extra 2 minutes, so no big deal. Mine were 1025s I think. I'm pretty lightweight, so I got small ones.

Look on the Atlas website, if they aren't too old, the same model might show up. Measure them to see the size, then compare that with what's on the website. They make different models for trail and mountaineering use.

Posted by: hobbyhiker

Re: new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 10/12/09 07:23 PM

So they were dirty, I cleaned them up and they are model # 825.

30 inches from tip to tail.

I'm so often on the other end of this type of thing. I usually hear something like "you should have kept your money".

This is exciting to hear that I may have found a deal.

Now all I need is a lot of snow. Colorado got some. Maybe we will get a dump.

Posted by: phat

Re: new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 10/12/09 07:31 PM

You got a good deal. That's generally about a $125 to $150 pair of snowshoes, on sale. As long as you're not very heavy, or the snow powdery, you'll do fine on them.
Posted by: TomD

Re: new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 10/13/09 12:26 AM

Here is the Atlas page on the 825

Atlas makes nice sturdy snowshoes. I had a pair of 1025 shoes for a while until I sold them and bought skis. You should get a lot of good use out of them.

There is an online snowshoeing magazine at It has some tips for beginners.

The next thing you will want are poles of some kind. Inexpensive ski poles work fine. Whatever you get, make sure they have snow baskets on them like ski poles do. Otherwise, expect to fall over a few times when the snow is really soft.
Posted by: hobbyhiker

Re: new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 10/14/09 06:23 PM

I've got leki hiking poles. Looks like I can get a bigger basket to add on.

Thanks for the tips and advice from everyone.

Looking forward to a snowy winter.

Now it looks like I need to find a good set of thermals.
Posted by: TomD

Re: new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 10/15/09 07:03 AM

I think REI will have the Leki baskets. That's where I got mine, I'm pretty sure. I had another pair, but they were for some other brand and didn't fit; might have been Komperdell. Get the right ones otherwise you'll be taking them back.

As far as thermals, there are lots of posts here on them. I have old midweight Capilene I really like, but other people love Merino wool. I wouldn't think you'd want expedition weight, unless you are really far North in subzero weather.
Posted by: Trailrunner

Re: new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 10/15/09 01:31 PM

Leki Baskets.
Posted by: TomD

Re: new to snow shoes-help(Brand suggestion) - 10/16/09 02:13 AM

Yep, those are the ones. You unscrew the stock basket and screw these on in their place. That's why they need to be the right ones.